Board seeks SAHA's amphitheater repair plans
by Anna Oakes
Boone's Cultural Resources Advisory Board voted Monday to ask the Southern Appalachian Historical Association to submit its plans for use of the Daniel Boone Park property by Feb. 24.
The request comes after a structural engineer hired by SAHA recommended the replacement of several structures at the park's amphitheater, where SAHA's outdoor drama "Horn in the West" has been performed for 62 years. CRAB Chairman Frank Mohler said the engineer's report was consistent with a report by town building inspector Todd Miller last fall, which deemed several structures to be unsafe.
Following Miller's report, the council voted in November to allocate $20,000 for the demolition of the amphitheater's stage left wall, back wall and "PIT" building, which houses the electrical service for a number of lights and other structures.
But SAHA asked the town to reconsider its decision, suggesting that a structural engineer could recommend repairs that could be made to meet safety standards and for the approximate amount allocated for demolition. The council in December rescinded its demolition decision and voted to extend SAHA's license of the property for 60 days past the Dec. 31 expiration date.
Engineer Patrick Beville spoke to the board in December in support of repairs at the property but recommended that SAHA hire a different firm to produce a structural engineer's report.
"Obviously they didn't get the report they were expecting to get," said CRAB member Billy Ralph Winkler, a former chairman of SAHA.
Town staff said the PIT building roof replacement alone would cost an estimated $54,000.
Former SAHA Chairwoman Michelle Ligon said in December that SAHA would be willing to raise funds to help pay repair costs that exceeded $20,000. SAHA recently selected a new chairman, Al Ernest.
SAHA supporters in December stated that it would be difficult -- if not impossible -- to produce "Horn in the West" without the structures in question. And the organization has also expressed reservations about temporarily moving the production to a different venue, including the Forest Edge Amphitheater in Wilkesboro, because of concerns about decreased revenue.
But on Tuesday, Ernest said the organization believes it can produce the show without the PIT building and is working to raise funds to help with any repairs that can be made.
"We absolutely will have a show this summer," Ernest said. "The CRAB board and (SAHA) have the same objective, which is to put on a safe, great 'Horn in the West' show for the season."
Ernest said SAHA is planning to hire a "Horn" director by the end of the week and that auditions are scheduled for Feb. 22. The SAHA board meets this Friday, he said.
"We can certainly give (CRAB) a clear line of sight by Feb. 24," he added.
Boone Cultural Resources Director Pilar Fotta said she has requested information from SAHA including the estimated cost of any planned repairs, a timeline repairs and proof of SAHA's means to pay for the repairs. Fotta said the town needs to know SAHA's plans so they can be considered along with other requests for use of the town-owned park under a new licensing system.
The town previously leased the park to SAHA, which in turn subleased the property to other users such as the farmers' market and Appalachian State University. Going forward, however, the town will negotiate directly with potential user groups through licenses of the property.
"I need to know what each individual user group is looking to do on the property," she said. "If we don't have enough user groups to keep it online, I don't know what the option would be."
CRAB members said the Feb. 24 deadline would give staff and the board time to evaluate SAHA's plan and make a recommendation at the March 3 CRAB meeting, with the town council to consider the recommendation later that month. The board also voted to recommend an extension of SAHA's license through April 11.
In other agenda items, the board:
• heard a proposal from Watauga Community Band member Steve Frank to build a permanent stage for outdoor concerts in the area. Frank said the band hopes to partner with a local government or organization to build the stage and that the band is exploring sites in Boone and Blowing Rock.
• scheduled a CRAB budget meeting for Monday, Feb. 17, at 3:30 p.m.